EvaRebuild: Evangerion Shin Gekijōban: Jo (’07)

1.0 or 1.11

In order to make sure the posts keep coming I picked the next bunch of films to write about. This time it’s the strange phenomenon of Evangelion. And I’m going at the latest iteration. The Rebuild project.

Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone (’07)

I remember once having a few beers with the director of Marianne for which I acted as a DP for the first time in my life on a Feature film. A friend of his was there and as it sometimes happens, that friend was a huge nerd for things japanese. That’s all ok. I am too. And during the inevitable geekout as we started to compare preferences in the different sub-sub-genres of the medium Filip (the director) asked what this “Evangelion” show was that we were discussing.

I don’t know exactly that came up but I think it was a mention of that one scene in End of Evangelion where it is heavily implied that the protagonist Shinji basically ejaculated over the knocked out body of Rei. I had forgotten about that scene. And this discussion brought it back into memory.  The question that Filip asked made me reply with a statement along the lines of “Think of it like this, the fans of anime are largely divided in two camps, those who prefer Gundam, and those who prefer Macross. But most love Evangelion”.

Of course that is a statement that I have come to regret as it has turned out to be largely the case that there is a shit-ton of anime-fans who absolutely loath everything about Evangelion in general. And its protagonist Shinji in particular. But maybe it is best to return back to the original question. The question of “what is Evangelion”. And the first part of the answer would be: It’s the ongoing psychotic breakdown of its creator, Hideaki Anno.

Regarding Anno

Anno Hideaki is a strange beast. I usually describe him as a wonderful mix between the absolute geekout fanatisism of George Lucas and the psychological turmoils of Lars von Trier. Like George he has his roots firmly in fan-culture. Starting his career with fan-made films for the anime-convention called DaiCon (the films is an absolute must for anyone who wants to see what can be done with super8 cell-animation). Managing to thrill the eyes of the master himself, Miyazaki, and landing a job at Ghibli supervising the animation of the giant war-machines and it’s laser-blasts in Nausicaä.  And from there eventually becoming the director of his own OVA’s, TV-series and films before creating his magnum Opus: Neon Genesis Evangelion. But like von Triers Antichrist, Anno made Evangelion during/after a serious bout with clinical depression. Imbuing the script and visuals with a heavy dose of religious imagery. And going back to George he has been stuck trying to remake this one thing ever since. Trying desperately to make it “right”.

The versions of Evangelion

TV

Using elements from his earlier works and borrowing heavily from his own favorite anime-productions of his youth. He and his team at Gainax produced the first iteration of Evangelion for TV broadcast in 1995-96. It’s a story about the protagonist Shinji battling his own father-issues while the world around him is attacked by creatures called Angels trying to destroy the world by triggering Third Impact with the help of the crucified Lilith. To the detriment of this struggle, Shinji gets the responsibility to pilot one of the strange giant robots called Eva’s as humanity’s final line of defence while he is practically such a psychological wreak that he can barely function as a social human being.

Does humanity prevail? Well, as SEGA, one of the big sponsors of the show, watched a few of the episodes the budget was cut considerably. During several interviews spokespersons have said that this didn’t impact the original series finale in any real way. But considering that the last episodes basically reverted to using rough animation, line-art and long stretches of stills it is still kind of obvious that some cutbacks were made. Also the constant revisionism smells of a general feeling of not getting things right from the start.

Ep 21-26 – Directors Cut

For later home video releases the episodes 21-26 were re-edited and in some parts redone to fix things that Anno weren’t really pleased with. These are the versions commonly available in print as far as I know. I’m actually not really sure that I have seen the original TV-cuts of these episodes. But there are still quite a few scenes where one could say they were made budget-consciously.

Death & Rebirth

The original run was a real success. One of the few things that has kept the Gainax-company going throughout its years. And one day the funds were available. Funds for a feature length film. What was produced was two films. Death, which was basically a highlight-reel of the original first three quarters of the show. And then the Rebirth retold the end in a third way using high budget theatrical-level animation. And some fans started to feel like the guy, Anno, really didn’t enjoy his fans. I am personally not really one of those who think that. But it is one of the more frequent statements about the man.

In this one it is quite clear. Humanity perish. And there is enough nightmare-fuel for the un-prepared minds that might be watching. Be warned. It is a terrific film in my opinion. But it really isn’t for everyone.

A lot of people have also made a few references to the old series Space Runaway Ideon when talking about these films. Firstly because it’s the favorite series of Anno apparently. Secondly because Anno seems to follow the same pattern with a series with a dire ending capped by a double-feature with a highlight-reel and an even more dire ending. I’m in the midst of watching that series too. But haven’t made it through enough to comment on this on my own.

The Manga

They also made a manga-version. I only read the first volume. It was decent enough but for some reason (probably related to pure economic setbacks) I just haven’t read it all. For all I know they are still releasing these.

Rebuild

Rebuild is the fourth version going on right now. It is a complete rebuild as the name suggests. New animation and everything. Using cell-shaded CGI and other new tricks while adhering to a movie-series format. This is what I’m watching right now.

Why the hate?

The hate that some feel are mostly directed at the protagonist. And people just hate the decision to make him a miserable and pathetic little teenager who just can’t seem to grasp even the simplest facts of life. Shit happens. Deal with it!

He walks around constantly perplexed and apathic. Countless humans could have been spared if he just gave himself a slap on the face and “grew a pair” instead of cowering like a wimp at the slightest setback.

But the worst crime of all? What seals the deal against Shinji? Simply the fact that throughout the whole thing. Shinji don’t grow and learn from his mistakes. He doesn’t finally master the skills needed to use the biomechanical giant suits against the Angels.

I do understand all this. By all accounts this is the trappings of really shitty writing. And in most, if not all, productions I am one of those hurting my hand as I try to strangle some sense into the characters in the television. Hell. It’s one of the main reasons I have such a love-hate relationship with the film Gravity.  But you know the strange part?

My defense

I really enjoy this story. Anno took what is essentially the moste trite and worn out genre of SciFi in japan. Giant monsters fighting in cities. It’s an industry fuel ever since the fifties with Tokusatsu films in TohoScope and Daiei-Scope, Television-shows with youngsters either growing tall themselves while wearing spandex or piloting great mechanical warriors. Live action, anime and both at the same time. It is a genre that in many ways were getting a bit old. Tried and true, but in need of new perspective.

In comes this story that takes all of the tropes. Turns them on their head and decides to take a sobering and strangely realistic look at what would really happen if you put adolescents in charge of defending the whole of humanity from beasts that makes the most hardened of hearts shiver in terror. And Nerves Motto: “God is in Heaven. All is Right in the World” becomes a cruel joke that just further rams home the hopelessness of the situation in the minds of these kids who probably would have enough trouble just battling their own hormones through puberty. And the adults are constantly hindered in their cause by bureaucracy, government-intrigues and their own psychological issues with their love-life’s and families. “Wait, are you saying that you want to cut the budget for the one thing that can save humanity!?”

So what about the film I just watched?

Well. It is a film version of the first quarter. Yes. But that is about it.

Yes the animation is superb. The CGI is only strange-looking in a handful of scenes. All seem to be working just fine. But that is basically it. The issue I have with the film is just that.

The film is basically just a remake. I didn’t feel like I gained much out of watching this version. The animation were smoother. But I kind of miss the low-fi feel of the original. And the story really works best in 20 minute chunks. With cliff-hangers and reveals between episodes that build in a way that this movie didn’t . One of the sequences I love about the original series is that the first episode ends with Shinji piloting Eva 01 about to attack and then episode two starts with Shinji in the hospital bed waking up. Not remembering anything about the fight. We then have to reconstruct the fight as we learn of the part where EVA01 went berserk and started devouring its enemy. This was done in an unexpected bait-n-switch in the original that made it stand out from the usual productions of its ilk. But now it just plays out in chronological order as we follow the battle from start to finish. There is just a lot of storytelling flair that went missing there. And in other parts too.

Closing

That is just a small section that I compared but it is the most glaring one for me. The rest is basically the same story told again. But if you want more than a visual update on the animation. This film will probably leave you wanting a bit more.

But then again. More is exactly what is coming. The rebuild Series is in 4 announced parts covering the whole story with a new ending. And the first 3 are already released. So let’s see if it manages to wow me in the watching of future installments.

As they say in the country of origin: Tsuduku!

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